In 1779, France and Spain joined the United States against England in the Revolutionary War. Up to that time, the American Revolution had been a matter of a colony fighting against the mother country over a variety of issues relating primarily to matters of taxation and questions of the efficacy and fairness of the control being exercised over the colony from a distance. When France and Spain joined in the war, it was not out of overwhelming support for the interests of the Americans but out of self-interest against Britain.
Antipathy between the French and the British was not new. The French were at war with the colonists a few years before during the French and Indian War, an event which made the American colonies important to Europe for the first time:
America was of minor importance to European diplomacy. . . until the French and Indian War of 1754-1763. Before then the ownership and boundaries of the various European colonies on the North American continent was for European statesmen a matter of less importance than the fate of minor Italian or German states. . .
Neither the French nor the British wanted war at the time, but miscalculations on both sides brought it about after an earlier treaty had been signed. The French and the British were suspicious of one another both in Europe and in the colonies. The British considered the fate of the colonies a central concern and as an integral part of an interconnected empire, in part for pure economic reasons:
American purchased British manufactured goods, supplied raw materials (particularly from the southern colonies), helped support the British West Indies, and provided masts and naval stores for the British navy. . . Furthermore, trade with America provided employment and training for the merchant seamen who in time of war would man the navy's warships. The colonies of North America thus were vital both to the health of the British economy and the strength of...